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Example research essay topic: Why Did The South Lose Civil War - 1,020 words

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A frequently, and sometimes hotly, discussed subject; the outcome of the American Civil War has fascinated historians for generations. Some argue that the Norths economic advantages proved too much for the South, others that Southern strategy was faulty, offensive when it should have been defensive, and vice-versa. Internal division in the South is often referred to, and complaints made against Davis somewhat makeshift, inexperienced, government. Doubts are sometimes raised over the commitment of Southerners to a cause many of them were half-hearted about. Many historians have argued that the South lost the will to fight long before defeat was an inevitability.

However, many of these criticisms could easily be applied to the North, had the outcome been different, and a simple superiority in resources is an insufficient explanation, when one considers the many examples in history, not least the American War of Independence, when a weaker defender has kept a far stronger attacker at bay. James Mc Person offers an alternative view in his contingency theory, where he outlines four turning points in the war which led ultimately to Southern defeat. However, while a recital of the wars events and key points may explain how the South lost the Civil War, it fails to explain why they lost. Why did the Southern war effort fail at three key stages?

While valid, Mcpherson's explanation seems little more than a more complex restatement of the question he attempts to answer. The Norths superiority in manpower and resources must not be omitted in any answer to this question. Lincoln had at his disposal a population of 22, 000, 000, compared with a Southern population of 9, 000, 000, which included 3, 500, 000 slaves whom they dared not arm. This provided a far larger base from which to draw troops, although it has been suggested that Southerners were keener to join up than their Union counterparts.

Furthermore, in terms of resources, the Union advantage was huge: New York alone produced manufactures of a value four times greater that the total Southern output; the North had a virtual monopoly on heavy industries; coal, iron, woollens, armaments, shipyards, machine shops - all were plentiful in the North and scarce in the South. The Union infrastructure was far better, with twice the density of railroads, and several times the mileage of canals and well-surfaced roads. Most shipping was carried out in Northern vessels, and the South had few shipyards, and only one machine shop capable of building an engine for a respectable warship. However, the ingenuity of many Southern officers compensated somewhat for her material disadvantages. Not once did a Southern army surrender for want of ammunition, and despite being in terrible disrepair, the Confederacy's railroads somehow fulfilled their task of transporting troops to battle on several notable occasions. Historian Edward Pollard commented that something more than numbers make armies, and Southern leader P G T Beauregard remarked that the outcome could not be explained by mere material contains.

Furthermore, the South had several clear advantages at the start of the war. Firstly, fighting on home ground was easier since supply lines were shorter, natives friendlier, and knowledge of the climate and terrain better. The vast area of the Confederacy made occupation by an invader virtually impossible, and the coastline with its many inlets and bays made for difficult blockading. Secondly, most of the US Army's best leaders were Southerners, so, at the start at least, the Confederacy had superior leadership in battle. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, military historians reckon that attacking in this period required thrice the manpower that defending did, virtually wiping out the Norths demographic advantages. It would seem, therefore, that although the Norths superior resources undoubtedly helped, this alone does not fully account for the Southern defeat.

Another view is that the South lost through bad conduct of the war. These criticisms fall into two main categories, military and political. Richard Current, identifies four main shortcomings in the economic management which may have played a part in the Souths defeat. Firstly, the Confederacy failed to make use of its main resource, cotton. The Union blockade did not take full effect for many months, allowing the Southerners time to export their cotton harvest, and reap the financial benefits. Alexander Stephens had a plan at the start of the war that he estimated would net around $ 800 M for the Confederacy, thus providing a sound financial base for the war effort.

Although somewhat optimistic, and beset by practical difficulties, it is fair to say that the cotton crop would have been far better exported than stockpiled or burnt. Secondly, the Confederate government displayed an unwillingness to tax her citizens, preferring instead to print money, and suffer the rampant inflation that resulted. The Union financed its war effort mainly from taxation and bonds, while 60 % of Southern funds came from unbacked paper money. The problems associated with this are clear to see: prices rose 100 -fold over the four years of war, wiping out southerners savings, and devastating the economy.

The governments reaction to this, and in Currents eyes, third mistake, was to impress public goods for military use. However, rather than curbing inflation, this merely acted as an disincentive to supply, making essential items increasingly scarce. This, coupled with the poor infrastructure and parochialism of some State governors, meant that the army went hungry in a nation with the capacity to produce plenty of food. Finally, it is argued that the Confederate government should have done more to improve infrastructure and manufacturing.

However, this was easier said than done, given the lack of suitable labour, diminished value of private capital, and lack of the correct skills or machinery for such improvements. Current does not blame Southern Treasury Secretary Memminger, however, saying that he had to deal with problems in comparison with which those of the Union Treasury seemed like childs play. Some historians deem the very nature of the Confederacy doomed to defeat. Ideologically handicapped by the doctrine of States Rights, the Southern war effort was frequently hampered by the parochial and inward-looking political culture which prevailed in many states. Wh...


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Research essay sample on Why Did The South Lose Civil War

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